Things to do in Swellendam – South Africa’s third oldest town
The Drostdy Museum
The Drostdy museum is a collection of buildings dating from the establishment of the Landrost or magistracy by the Cape Dutch East india Company in 1743. The buildings contain fine period furniture, pictures and also examples of the equipment and work of the wagon builders, smiths and slaves throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Faerie Sanctuary
The Sulina Faerie Sanctuary is Swellendam’s “special faerie and angel healing sanctuary” dedicated to the protection and preservation of all the positive energies of love, peace and light.
The Sanctuary is open from 0900 to 1630 Wednesdays to Sundays and every day during school holidays. It is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, for 10 days after the end of school holidays and for the month of June.
Weekday healing and meditational visits can be booked on request.
Wildebraam produces liqueurs, syrups & vinegar, jams and brandied fruits, relishes, chutneys , atchars & pickles, and corporate and wedding gifts at a beautiful farm on the edge of Swellendam.
They are open from 0800 – 1700 Monday to Friday and till 1600 on Saturday.
Rain Factory Shop
The Rain Factory Shop. For centuries, African tribal healers have been using medicinal plants for healing and skin protection from Africa’s indigenous flora. We have incorporated these oils into our products for their various properties and skin benefits as well as for the jobs they create.
Equine Encounters Swellendam
At Appelsbosch farm, Swellendam we offer you a variety of equine-related activities in beautiful surroundings.
Our packages include: Equine Encounter &Trail ride; Kids/family lead rein trail ride; Beginner riding lessons.
Telephone: 0823043407 / 0729960641
Meisie Bokawana’s Township Tours
Meisie Bokwana runs a great after school project for kids in Railton, and takes visitors on a fascinating tour on request. Please ask Jackie or Stephen for details.
Contact: +27 (0)84 775 1269
David Schlapobersky and Felicity Potter have been making pots together since 1973 and are well known for their wide range of high temperature reduction fired stoneware and porcelain. Using their own blends of clay and glazes prepared from local raw materials. They are happy to discuss and demonstrate their work and timeless tradition of handmade pottery. Their studio and showroom are open daily and visitors are welcome.
Barry and Nephews Museum Shop
Geoff and Louis have created a haven of interior design, fabrics, gifts and curios all made in Swellendam in the museum shop. Swellengrebel Street.
Contact: +27 (0)83 228 1355
Swellendam’s 9 hole, par 72 golf course is unique in its beautiful setting – nestling at the foot of the magnificent Langeberg mountains. The clubhouse is open from 0800 to 1900 daily, except on Sundays when the hours are shorter.
The Marloth Nature Reserve
A wilderness area of 14,123 hectares just outside Swellendam with opportunities for walks and serious hikes with overnight camping in the Langeberg mountains.
Wildflowers, majestic mountain views, many hiking trails, rock pools and waterfalls, rare birds and animals grace this sprawling national park
Marloth Nature Reserve is named after the pioneer botanist who, together with a deputation of Swellendam residents in 1928 petitioned the Minister of Lands and Forestry to set aside part of the mountain as a nature reserve.
In 1981, the reserve was enlarged and the Swellendam Hiking Trail was opened.
Marloth Flower Route Trail distance: 5,5km (2,5 hours).
This easy hike begins and ends at the reserve office. The highlight is a section of about 2,5km that leads through rich protea and erica stands, that are very colourful in flower season. Along the way you will see small animals, Cape fynbos, patches of afromontane forest and birds.
Koloniesbos Trail distance: 6km (2,5 hours).
This fairly easy circular hike begins and ends at the reserve office. Along the way you can see small animals, Cape fynbos and birds. This circular route leads into Koloniesbos, an indigenous forest where you will find yellowwood, stinkwood and ironwood trees.
Tienuurkop Trail distance: 11,5km (6,5 hours).
This is a very difficult route. The linear circle route starts at the reserve office and leads to the peak of Tienuurkop and back. It leads through fynbos veld and patches of indigenous forest in the ravines. You are rewarded with views over Swellendam and the Ruensveld. Watch out for a diversity of birds and small animals.
Duiwelsbos Trail distance: 5km (2 hour).
This fairly easy hike begins and ends at the reserve office. The first 2km takes the hiker to the Duiwelsbos and then 1,5km leads into the indigenous forest and back. The trail turns at a small waterfall. Along the way you will see small animals, Cape fynbos, and birds. Fires are only permitted at demarcated sites.
Twaalfuurkop Trail distance: 8,5km (4 hours).
This strenuous and very difficult linear route starts at the reserve office and leads to the peak of Twaalfuurkop and back. It leads through fynbos veld and patches of indigenous forest in the ravines. You are rewarded with views over Swellendam and the Ruensveld. Hikers are rewarded with a diversity of birds and small animals.
Die Plaat Trail distance: 8,5km (4 hours), but different route options are available.
This easy route follows through patches of indigenous forest and fynbos veld, where you will be able to spot various small animals and birds.
Bontebok National Park
Enjoy a drive around the park where there are well marked walking trails by the river and in the beautiful countryside. We can organise a guide for you if you wish. We also have a few copies left of Adin Greaves’ book about the Park (which is now out of print) in our little shop at The Hideaway.
Things to do in Swellendam and around Swellendam, Western Cape, South Africa
Nestling at the foot of the Langeberg Mountains, Swellendam has much to offer visitors who have an interest in history, nature and outdoor activities.
Situated on the N2, approximately 240km from both Cape Town and George, Swellendam is the perfect choice for a halfway stopover or as a base from which to explore the area.
Rainfall is spread over the year (55% winter and 45% summer). There is little wind and temperatures are moderate. There is no shortage of water and gardens are lush and luxuriant. The cost of living is reasonable and the town is clean and efficiently run.
The people are friendly and there is no political strife with a virtual absence of serious crime.
Local historical buildings in Swellendam
The third oldest town in South Africa, the shady oak-lined streets of Swellendam seem to groan with history.
Visit the Drostdy Museum, the old Gaol, the intricately built Dutch Reformed church that acts as a focal point of the town alongside a clutch of other historical national monuments – and all within just a few minutes’ walk from the Hideaway.
Historic Swellendam is South Africa’s third oldest town
Early travellers and explorers who visited the Cape in the 1500’s traded with the Khoi-khoi people who lived on these shores.
When the Dutch East India Company established a replenishment station at the Cape in 1652, trade continued inland as far as Swellendam.
In 1743 Swellendam was declared a magisterial district, the third oldest in South Africa, and was named after Governor Hendrik Swellengrebel and his wife, Helena Ten Damme.
This outlying settlement soon became a gateway to the interior, and was visited by many famous explorers and travellers including Le Vaillant (1781), Lady Anne Barnard (1798), Burchell (1815) and Bowler (1860). In time, a village was established opposite the Drostdy, where artisans including numerous wainwrights and traders settled. To travellers and explorers, the services of the village folk were indispensable, as Swellendam was the last outpost of civilization on the eastern frontier.
By 1795 maladministration and inadequacies of the Dutch East India Company caused the long-suffering burghers of Swellendam to revolt, and in 1795 they declared themselves a Republic, but this was short-lived due to the occupation of the Cape by the British. With the arrival of British settlers in the early 1800’s the Overberg boomed, and its capital, Swellendam, was soon the heart of the famous mercantile empire of Barry and Nephews, created by Joseph Barry.
By the middle of the 19th century, the eastern districts had been colonized by the British settlers and Swellendam was a thriving metropolis. The town served as a useful refreshment station on the long, slow journey up the coast. Today Swellendam is a flourishing agricultural area, and has many attractive and historic buildings which serve as a reminder of its exciting past.
The first known sketch of Swellendam was of the Drostdy, by Johannes Schumacher in 1776, when he accompanied the son of Governor Swellengrebel to the town.
Today the Drostdy forms part of a museum complex that consists of several heritage sites.
Marloth Nature Reserve
Just minutes from Swellendam, the wonderfully peaceful Marloth Nature Reserve boasts magical walks to waterfalls, indigenous forest and even allows you to go to the top of the majestic Langeberg Mountains which tower over Swellendam.
The coast just a short drive from Swellendam is one of – if not the – world’s most famous whale watching areas.
From De Hoop to Witsand you can watch the once almost extinct Southern right whales breaching and splashing just a pebble’s throw from the shore.
The months of September, October and November are the best whale watching months, but you are almost guaranteed of seeing whales throughout the winter.
Visit the coastal town of Hermanus (only one hour and forty five minutes away).
Go Whale watching between August and November and watch out for the town’s “Whale Crier” who, with the aid of a dried kelp horn, broadcasts the location of the latest sightings, or take a stroll on the sandy white beaches.
De Hoop Nature reserve
The Marine Nature Reserve at de Hoop is one of the best places in the world to view the Southern Right Whale, some 40% of the population of which come to de Hoop’s 23,000 hectare coastal reserve.
On land, the reserve is home to 86 mammal species including the occasional leopard, 1500 plant species, of which 108 are rare or threatened and more than 250 species of resident and migratory birds.
De Hoop has something to offer all manner of nature lovers, its 70km of rugged coastline and sheltered rock pools provide ideal swimming in addition to land based whale viewing.
Visitors can choose from a range of hiking and mountain biking trails, as well as guided interpretative fynbos and rock pool walks and birding excursions.
You can also cross the Breede River with the last hand operated ferry in Africa (Malgas)
Bontebok National Park
This 8000 hectare national park is home to the threatened Cape Mountain Zebra and Bontebok.
It boasts 196 different birds and 490 different plant species. The plants and flowers are at their best in April.
Enjoy a walk in the park, or as a guest of the Hideaway, you’re offered a special tour around the Bontebok National Park with our previous owner Adin Greaves – who’s written a book on the Park – at a discounted rate.
The Breede River Valley Wine Route
A few kilometres from Swellendam, a turning off the R60 takes you towards Bonnievale and through the beautiful Breede river valley, which is dotted with vineyards and tasting rooms.
Some have restaurants and there is even the opportunity to have a picnic by the banks of the river or on a short river cruise.
Longer boat trips are available with opportunities for swimming, bass fishing and bird watching from the boat, followed by a picnic or a braai in a delightful spot under the blue gum trees by the river. Please ask Stephen or Jackie for more details.
Van Loveren Tasting Garden
Relax and enjoy wine and food pairing in Van Loveren’s beautiful tasting rooms, visit the lovely gardens laid out by the Retief family in the 1930s where all the trees have a story to tell. There is a bistro, Christina’s, which serves excellent lunches.
Van Loveren has a range of cultivars that has married well to this fertile valley with its robust undertone of lime.
The southernmost town in Africa and the closest point to where the Indian and Atlantic oceans officially meet. L’Agulhas means needles in Portuguese.
This refers to the jagged rocks which claimed many ships due to the fact that the compass shows no magnetic deviation at this spot which led to fatal navigational errors.
Visit the Shipwreck museum and the Agulhas National Park with more than 1750 botanical species and a coastline supporting breeding sites for many rare birds such as the African Black Oyster Catcher.
The Fynbos Road
Fynbos is the natural vegetation occurring in the Western Cape.
The Fynbos Road stretches for 100 kilometres from just south of Bredasdorp to the coastal town of Gaansbaai, circumventing urban areas and meandering through peaceful rural landscapes.
The historic village of Elim situated halfway between Bredasdorp and Gaansbaai was founded by Moravian missionaries in 1824 and has been declared a National Heritage Site.
The vineyards of the Elim region on the Agulhas plain stretch south east of the village on the Fynbos Road. Its unique location has made it one of the newest and yet most exciting wine producing areas in the world. Visit the Black Oystercatcher vineyard to taste wines more akin to those from central Otago in New Zealand than the wines of South Africa and enjoy a delicious lunch and a microbrewery.
Established in 1838, Napier is a beautiful little town that still retains much of its old world charm. It is fast gaining a reputation as an artist’s community playing host to numerous cultural events. Along the main road you will find a host of art galleries and collectors shops including a toy museum.
Without a doubt, Montagu is the ultimate Breede river valley destination and arriving there through the Kogmanskloof gorge number among the most dramatic arrivals in the country.
If you don’t feel like climbing, you can still reach the top of the Langeberg mountains on Wednesdays and Saturdays on a highly recommended 3 hour tractor ride from Protea Farm which can be booked for you by Stephen or Jackie. The views can be stunning.
Montagu is best known for its hot springs, but serious rock climbers come for its cliff faces which are regarded as among the country’s most challenging.
Visit the beautiful, almost-deserted beaches of Infanta, Witsand, Arniston and Struis Bay.
If you are after a simply beautiful drive through rugged terrain then makes sure you take the 14 kilometre long Tradouws Pass between Swellendam and Barrydale.
It is a truly breath taking drive.
It is so craggy and arduous that you will wonder how the pass originated. It was actually constructed in 1873 by a large gang of prisoners.
Fishing and the Breede river
Enjoy a day’s fishing in the Breede river or simply cruise past historical Infanta and one of the oldest lighthouses on the coast.
The Breede river estuary fishing is, and has always been, the best in South Africa. Please ask Stephen or Jackie for more details.
Opportunities for river rafting also exist through the faster flowing rapids areas. Learn about the local bird population, fishing resources and whales.
A few useful things a first time visitor to South Africa should know
First time visitors to South Africa are often surprised by how developed the country is. That being said, there is no doubt that South Africa – and the South African way of life – can be markedly, and sometimes amusingly, different from your own.
We’ve fielded lots of questions from our overseas guests and have got a feel for the things that confound or trouble our guests the most.
We’ll keep adding to it for as long as this wonderful country presents puzzling practices to our visitors…
Using mobile phones (cell phones) in South Africa
You can avoid expensive international roaming charges by purchasing a South African simcards for your mobile (or cell phone as we call it in South Africa).
These can be bought for as little as R2.00 (± 15 pence).
Airtime can be purchased at most major supermarkets and post offices. Most mobile phone networks these days will allow you to insert another country’s simcard but it is worth checking with your provider before you leave home.
Booking a restaurant in South Africa
If you are staying in B&Bs it is a good idea to check with the establishment about dinners, as not all B&Bs pre-book restaurants like we do here at The Hideaway.
Sometimes you will find that the local restaurants (especially within walking distance) may be fully booked and the last thing you will feel like after just arriving is getting back into the car to drive to a restaurant.
Should I book early for Robben Island?
We have had many a guest arrive at The Hideaway and tell us how disappointed they were not to be able to visit Robben Island. In the peak season Robben Island ferry trips get fully booked weeks in advance. To avoid this contact the place you are staying in Cape Town and ask them to pre book tickets for you.
South African public holidays
In major areas shops, restaurants and cinemas etc will be open on public holidays, except for Christmas Day and New Years Day. If the holiday falls on a Sunday, the Monday (next day) will be a holiday.
1 January – New Year’s Day
21 March – Human Rights Day
22 April – Good Friday (the Friday before Easter Sunday)
25 April – Family Day (the Monday after Easter Sunday)
27 April – Freedom Day
1 May – Workers Day
16 June – Youth Day
9 August – Women’s Day
24 September – Heritage Day
16 December – Day of Reconciliation
25 December – Christmas Day
26 December – Day of Goodwill
South African Tax
Value-added-tax (VAT) is charged on most items. Foreign tourists to South Africa can have their 15% VAT refunded provided that the value of the items purchased exceeds R250.00. VAT is refunded at the point of departure and receipts from purchases must be kept and produced.
Currency & banks in South Africa
The South African currency unit is the Rand, denoted by the symbol R. One hundred cents makes up one R1 (one Rand). Currently the Rand is significantly weaker than many European currencies as well as the dollar, making travelling to South Africa affordable by international standards.
Petrol/Gas stations in South Africa
Petrol or gas stations are widespread throughout South Africa and many are open 24-hours. However, if you are planning a long distance trip through a remote area, ensure that your tank is full to avoid running low. A petrol attendant will fill your tank for you and will often wash your windscreen.
Road safety in South Africa
South Africa has an excellent infrastructure of good quality roads, however the country is large and travelling distances can be long. If you are planning a self-drive holiday, make sure that you allow yourself ample time to reach destinations and make provisions for stop-overs en-route. One of the biggest causes of road accidents on long-distances is fatigue and loss of concentration.
Health and medical care in South Africa
South Africa has excellent health services and doctors with some of the best training in the world. There are adequate hospitals and medical care facilities throughout the country. However, visitors should ensure that they have sufficient funds or medical insurance to cover the fees of private facilities.
Tap water in South Africa is perfectly safe to drink as all water has been treated to the same high levels you’d expect in Europe or the USA.
Hygiene and food preparation are of excellent standards and fresh fruit and vegetables are safe to eat.
Malaria is found only in the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo and on the Maputaland coast of KwaZulu-Natal.
Is it safe to travel in South Africa?
As in any foreign country, visitors are advised to be aware and alert when travelling to avoid falling prey to petty theft and crime. Most areas and attractions of South Africa can be safely visited. However, use common sense, be discreet with expensive camera equipment and jewellery and be aware of your surroundings. Avoid walking in deserted areas after dark and when driving, always park in a well lit and designated parking area. In you have any doubts, speak to your hosts and ask for their advice on potential areas to avoid.
South Africa’s electricity supply: 220/230 volts AC 50 Hz
Exceptions: Pretoria (230 V) and Port Elizabeth (200/250 V)
Most plugs have three round pins but some plugs with two smaller pins are also found on appliances.
Is it OK to speak English in South Africa?
South Africa has 11 official languages one of them being English. The majority of the population is able to speak and understand English even if it is not their first language.
South Africans use a lot of local slang – some of those you are more than likely to come into contact with are listed below:
Howzit – A traditional South African greeting meaning “How are you?” or “How are things?”
Boet – “Boet” is the Afrikaans word for “brother” and is often used as a term of affection between male friends.
Café – the local corner shop selling milk, bread, newspaper and cigarettes etc
Just now – If a South African tells you they will do something “just now”, they mean they’ll do it in the near future – not immediately.
Lekker – An Afrikaans word meaning nice. It is often used in association with food, as in: “That meal was lekker.”
Now now – This is not intended to comfort but means shortly, as in: “I will be there now now.”
Rooibos – A popular South African tea made in the Cape. Rooibos is an Afrikaans word meaning “red bush”. When people speak of rooibos they are referring to rooibos tea.
Robot – South African’s universally call traffic lights ‘robots’. So if you’re directed to “turn left at the robots”, don’t be looking out for R2D2 on the pavement – they mean the traffic lights.
Braai – the South African equivalent of a barbeque where meat is cooked over an open fire. A popular weekend and social pastime.
Boerewors/Wors – a type of spicy sausage made from beef or lamb. Generally it is quite thick and is cooked on a braai.